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Majority of Women do not need a Double Mastectomy

Update Date: May 22, 2014 09:28 AM EDT

For many breast cancer patients, they are recommended to undergo a double mastectomy as a precaution. According to a new study, this procedure might not be necessary for the majority of women.

"It's a reasonable thing to be fearful of recurrence," said Dr. Ann Partridge, a breast oncologist and director of the adult survivorship program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. "What you hope is that fear motivates them to comply with treatment. What you hope the fear doesn't do is cripple them."

In this study, the research team examined 1,447 cases of women diagnosed with breast cancer. The women provided information about their breast cancer to registries from 2005 to 2007 and 2009 to 2010. All of the women had been treated for cancer in one breast and did not experience a recurrence. The researchers examined the participants' clinical indication for getting a double mastectomy. A clinical indication was defined as carrying the genetic mutation BRCA1 or 2, which have been tied to an increased risk of breast cancer, or having a family history of the disease.

The team found that seven out of 10 patients did not need to get both of their breasts removed. Almost 19 percent of them stated that they had considered getting the other breast removed out of precaution. Eight percent actually underwent the procedure. The women that decided to remove both breasts reported higher levels of fear that the cancer will move from one breast to the other even thought the risks were not high.

"What we found is that almost 70 percent did not have a clinical indication for it," said study researcher Sarah Hawley, an associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor reported by WebMD.

The researchers stressed that women who had to remove one breast due to breast cancer should be fully educated about their risk of recurrence in the other breast. According to Dr. Partridge, the average risk of getting primary cancer in the other breast is around 2.5 percent over the span of five years. This percentage can fall even more if women take hormonal drugs. For women with clinical indication, their risk of getting primary cancer in the opposite breast is 20 percent over five years.

"Let the dust settle," Dr. Partridge recommended. "Get the breast treated you need to get treated. You can always go back."

The study was published in JAMA Surgery.

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